Why Manufacturing Struggles With Cloud Security

Attacks targeting cloud infrastructure are on the rise, according to the Netwrix 2022 Cloud Data Security Report, and the industry that is most vulnerable to attacks on the cloud is manufacturing. Slightly more than half of manufacturing companies experienced an attack on their cloud infrastructure in the past year.

What makes the cloud in manufacturing so vulnerable is the mindset of safety—not security—first. The primary goal is to protect the operator from risk caused by the machine and has been that way for decades. Shifting the mindset to protecting the digital assets of the machine is going to take some time.

And speaking of decades, the other issue that manufacturing faces is the slow turnover of machinery or even IT infrastructure. “This approach makes cloud instances of the manufacturing organizations more vulnerable due to the evolving threat landscape that needs to be addressed in a timely manner,” said Dirk Schrader, vice president of security research at Netwrix.

Also, using the cloud, effectively using the cloud and securely using the cloud are different things, Sammy Migues, principal scientist at Synopsys Software Integrity Group, pointed out.

“Any organization or industry that’s new to using the cloud will almost certainly still be learning to use the cloud effectively and securely as they develop the right skills, hire the right people, improve their business processes, adapt their risk management, improved their software development and testing processes, and so on,” said Migues in an email interview.

The Risks of OT in the Cloud

Manufacturing has long revolved around operational technology (OT); IT is the newcomer to the factory floor. Traditionally, OT communicated only internally with other machines if there was any communication at all.

That changed with cloud computing and IoT/IIoT devices now are used regularly across manufacturing. But OT continues to lag behind IT and, as Schrader explained, this means that patching and hardening or modern identity management to secure cloud computing environments are not easy to implement or are not even available for many OT devices.

OT in the connected factory isn’t prepared for cloud-based cybersecurity risks. “The manufacturing floor is no longer air-gapped from the corporate IT network,” said Stephen Banda, senior manager, Security Solutions at Lookout. “Cyberthreats can spread from the corporate IT network to the OT network. Industrial control systems are now vulnerable. IoT strategies are enabling new ways to drive customer service and business efficiency, but the security of many IoT devices is not field-proven.”

Supply Chain Risks

The supply chain has always played a huge role in manufacturing, but in smart factories, the supply chain has a strong digital component.

“Central to an efficient manufacturing supply chain is the secure flow of information throughout a complex ecosystem of partners, suppliers, contractors, and other third parties,” said Banda. “Enabling secure access to data from any device, network and location is critical to ensure the right people and processes have the right information when it’s needed.”

But as manufacturing becomes more reliant on smart devices transmitting and storing data in the cloud, the chances of the wrong people gaining access to processes and information continue to increase. Intellectual property is at risk of being stolen or manipulated, and then there are the risks coming from one of the third parties along a seemingly endless supply chain (your vendors are working with other vendors who work with their own vendors, and so on) and the further down you go in that supply chain, the less you know about potential vulnerabilities that could end up impacting your cloud security.

“Coordinating all those using cloud solutions can deliver the flexibility for more customization, but it also multiplies the risk that someone within the chain neglects precautions and creates an attack surface for cyber crooks,” said Schrader.

Addressing Cloud Security Risk on the Factory Floor

You still need to address the security basics in the factory; things like hardening configurations, restricting access to least-privilege, training people. Deploying cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions with advanced data protection capabilities offers a high level of protection for cloud computing, as does adopting a zero-trust approach.

For supply chain security, Schrader pointed out it is vital to know your data handover points and the split of responsibilities among all members of the chain and to establish security protocols along the chain.

“For your own factory floor, know the limits of each OT device,” Shrader added. “If it isn’t ready for modern security management, implement additional measures to prevent successful attacks.”

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Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is freelance writer based in central Pennsylvania. She's been writing about cybersecurity and technology trends since 2008.

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